Northwest NEWS

April 10, 2000

Features

Rare and fascinating dragons to arrive at Puget Sound zoos

Komodo dragon

Catch a glimpse of the Komodo dragon at the Point Defiance and Woodland Park zoos.
Photo by Jessie Cohen, National Zoo.

by Deborah Stone

   In celebration of the Chinese Year of the Dragon, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium and Woodland Park Zoo are bringing Komodo dragons, the largest lizards in the world, to their institutions.

   Puget Sound residents will have the opportunity to see and learn about these powerful creatures that symbolize great potential and good luck, according to Chinese proverbs. Komodos are recognized as formidable predators, hunting prey of deer, pigs, and goats with stealth and superior hunting prowess.

   These lizards can measure more than ten feet long and weigh over 200 pounds. They can kill a deer twice its weight, and although they may look clumsy, they can run as fast as a dog for short distances.

   One dragon can eat up to eighty percent of its body weight in food at one meal. After a large meal, it may not eat again for several weeks. A Komodo uses its twelve-inch long, chemo-sensitive forked tongue to detect its prey and can smell carrion almost seven miles away. It will then track its prey until death. Along with strong teeth and long, sharp claws, this creature has deadly, toxic saliva.

   "So even if an animal does escape the clutch of a dragon, it will likely die from infection caused by the bacteria found in the dragon's mouth," explains Dr. Brian Joseph, General Curator and Chief Veterinarian at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium.

   Currently, scientists believe there are fewer than 6,000 Komodo dragons living on only a few islands in Indonesia, and their habitat continues to shrink. They have been listed as an endangered species since 1976, according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

   The Indonesian government is working to protect Komodos, but habitat loss, poaching, pets, and exotic species continue to threaten the population. American zoos are also assisting by researching and breeding these endangered reptiles.

   Loki, a seven and a half-foot male weighing nearly 75 pounds, will be on view at "The Dragons Lair" at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium April 15 through October 1st. The exhibit will resemble a tropical South Pacific Island habitat and feature other native wildlife, including Java rice sparrows, a carpet python, Tokay geckos, and a desert sand goanna (a member of the monitor lizard family, like the Komodo dragon).

   Woodland Park Zoo will open its permanent exhibit, "Dragons of Komodo," on May 27th with two dragons: Raptura (Loki's sister), a six-foot, 50-pound adult female, and an unnamed three-foot juvenile. The environment for the exhibit will represent clearings in a seasonally dry forest and include a small pool for cooling, heated rocks, natural and artificial sunlight for basking, and soil for digging, all dragon comforts.

   "Dragons conjure up a sense of awe and mystique," notes Gary Mozel, interpretive planner for Woodland Park Zoo. "This is an exciting opportunity for visitors to take a peek into the real world of these fascinating and little-known creatures."

   For more information, call Woodland Park Zoo at 206-684-4800, or Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium at 253-591-5337.